Patriots offense finally showed promise in loss to Ravens

 

Even though the New England Patriots finally lost a game this season, the offense flashed some of its potential – particularly through the air.

At first glance, the New England Patriots had a rough outing against the Baltimore Ravens. The team lost by 17 points, the defense surrendered almost 400 total yards, and the offense held onto the ball for less than 23 minutes of total game time.

Despite ranking in the NFL’s top-10 in points per game for most of this season, the Patriots offense in particular has been much maligned in 2019. While the defense deservedly stole most of the headlines through the first half of the year, the offense was considered to be very much a work in progress.

Primarily, injuries and personnel loss have been to blame for the struggles on that side of the ball.

No less than 13 members of the New England starting offense have turned up on the injury report at various points throughout the season, with many of those names even missing actual game action. The Patriots also lost several key contributors to either free agency or other circumstances this year, including Trent Brown, Rob Gronkowski, Antonio Brown, and Josh Gordon, among others.

Analyzing the New England drive chart from Sunday’s loss to Baltimore, there’s initially not a lot to like if you’re a Patriots fan. Here was the rundown of how all 11 offensive drives ended for the Pats:

  • Punt
  • Punt
  • Punt
  • Touchdown
  • Punt
  • Field Goal
  • Field Goal
  • Fumble
  • Touchdown
  • Interception
  • Punt

Nearly half of their offensive drives ended in punts, and the Patriots turned the ball over as many times as they scored touchdowns on the evening.

Still, a deeper dive into how the night went for this offense should offer some encouraging signs for those hopeful of finding a silver lining in what was otherwise an embarrassing loss.

Despite playing behind a patchwork offensive line that regularly allowed Baltimore’s blitz-happy defense to get into his own backfield, New England quarterback Tom Brady played exceedingly well. His 80.4 quarterback rating notwithstanding, the 42-year-old Patriots passer displayed pocket awareness and mobility that probably impressed his counterpart on the other sideline, Ravens QB Lamar Jackson.

While no one would ever consider Brady a “mobile quarterback” or a dual-threat at the position, he still knows how to do enough with his legs to escape sack attempts and pressure – especially this season, given everything his line is allowing to get past them. It’s a small wonder he was actually only sacked twice on Sunday evening.

He also did a good job getting the ball out quickly to his two primary weapons on the night: wide receivers Julian Edelman and Mohamed Sanu. Between the two of them, they corralled 20 of 25 targets thrown their way and were responsible for nearly 60% of New England’s yards through the air.

It’s certainly not a surprise to see Edelman having the kind of night he had against the Ravens, featured as the No. 1 option in this offense and operating as Brady’s most trusted receiver.

Sanu’s rapid emergence after just a couple of weeks practicing with Brady and his teammates is significantly more encouraging though. If this is what he’s capable of doing in just his second game as a Patriot (catching 10 of 14 balls for 81 yards and a score), then the price of his trade from Atlanta is already well worth it.

Brady reportedly lobbied hard for Sanu to get acquired, so it’s not shocking that he would want to get the ex-Falcon quickly immersed in the Patriots operation. Recall that in Week 2, Antonio Brown was absolutely peppered with targets down in Miami, presumably in an effort to get him acclimated right away in the complex New England offense. It looks like Sanu is getting a similar treatment from Brady and coordinator Josh McDaniels.

The lack of success in the run game is certainly an ongoing issue that needs to be resolved by the Patriots – especially as the weather gets worse heading into winter – but even that shouldn’t be a hugely concerning issue as it related specifically to the Ravens game.

This Baltimore run defense was ranked No. 3 in the NFL heading into the weekend. In other words, there was no way that Sony Michel, Rex Burkhead, and James White were going to get much of anything going on the ground Sunday night.

The Patriots should be encouraged by what they saw offensively against the Ravens. Considering the team found itself in an early 17-point hole, Brady and his receivers showed no real fear in slowly, methodically whittling that deficit down to just four points – and on two separate occasions, in fact. If Edelman doesn’t lose that fumble on the team’s opening drive of the third quarter, perhaps the entire second half has a different complexion to it.

Another cause for optimism with this offense should be the influx of talent and health that’s on the radar currently.

N’Keal Harry was inactive against the Ravens, but he’s back off IR and probably will make his season debut against the Eagles in Week 11. Left tackle Isaiah Wynn will likely return to game action the following week against the Cowboys and replace Marshall Newhouse, who has been the biggest problem by far on this O-line.

Tight ends Ryan Izzo and Matt LaCosse could become more involved against Philadelphia if they’re needed, as both will probably be healthy and ready to go once more. Rex Burkhead, Phillip Dorsett, James White, Shaq Mason, and Julian Edelman will all have extra time to see their specific ailments heal, thanks to the bye week.

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There’s a decent chance that if no one gets hurt at practice over the next couple weeks, the Patriots could have their roster as close to full strength as it’s been all season when they again return to action. That in itself is an exciting thought, and certainly warrants a healthy degree of optimism from New Englanders who might feel a bit bereft after what happened Sunday night versus the Ravens.

 

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